Aligning sustainability to success (and vice versa)
Last Sunday, John Naughton quoted 1930s campaigning author Upton Sinclair (right) in a piece in the Observer about the social contract and tech companies:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
While Sinclair was coming from a political activist point of view, the quote resonated deeply with some of my thoughts on corporate social responsibility:
- On an individual level, it chimes with my concept of ‘green jujitsu’ – that we must translate sustainability into terms which make it attractive to each employee.
- On an organisational level, it illustrates my oft spouted opinion that if the business’s core function and sustainability pull in opposite directions, the former will win – in the short term at least.
Too many corporate sustainability efforts fail through cognitive dissonance – employees are told to think about the long term future of civilisation AND to maximise short term profits at any cost (or suffer the consequences). There is often an implication that what the individual/business is doing is morally abhorrent and, as Sinclair says, people will switch off.
To square this circle we need to find the common ground between sustainability and the interests of the individual/organisation. That sweet spot gives us our ‘in’ for engagement and understanding – then we can work on further alignment on a win-win basis.